Foraging has come back into fashion. People used to do it in wartime, in famine and in the 1980’s.
When I was an easily embarrassed teenager, my parents used to forage for rocket in public places. They would keep plastic bags in the car boot and visit the local football oval to scour every inch of it for those bitter greens. Their excuse: “You can’t buy this at the shops.” “It’s what we used to eat in the old country.”
But this post isn’t about rocket. Or teenage embarrassment. It’s about avocados. Wild avocados. And my very own little foraging adventure. Perhaps we all become our parents eventually.
Across the road from where I live stands a very tall avocado tree. I know it’s an avocado tree because an avocado fell out of it as I was walking past. It didn’t hit me on the head, which was lucky because I wasn’t wearing a hard hat. But it did hit the footpath, with quite a thud, and then it rolled down a very steep slope into a concrete gutter far below. I watched as the avocado settle itself nicely next to three others.
With some excitement I did my sums. They were $2.99 each at the supermarket. There was $12 worth of avocados down there. I looked up. Above me the tree hung heavy with another twenty or thirty ripe avocado. All waiting to fall and roll down that steep slope. I calculated there was about $100 worth of avocados in that tree. I started to hyperventilate. This must be how my parents had felt when they spotted rocket. It was obvious that foraging was in my blood. It was time to reconnect with my peasant ancestry, reclaim my migrant roots. It was time to avail myself of free avocados.
Should I wait for each of them to fall? But how would I know exactly where to stand to catch them before they rolled down that infernal slope? I wondered if I could commandeer a local cherry picker from emergency services; perhaps I could report a light pole down, and when they arrived, admit the truth and split the bounty with them. Alas I decided that might not work. After all, if they had the cherry picker, why would they share? No. I would have to get my own cherry picker. Or take my chances down that sharp slippery slope and be happy with the smaller prize of four perfectly ripe avocados.
I decided to take the smaller prize. After all an avocado, or four, in the hand is better than twenty, or thirty on a tree.
And not only was I of peasant stock but I had been a rugged tom boy as a child, constantly scrambling around chasing mystery and adventure. How hard could it be a mere thirty five years and two herniated discs later to pick up a few avocados from under a tree?
Dear reader, it was hard.
I did manage the dangerous slope, on the seat of my pants. I did reach the concrete gutter but not without grazing long stretches of bare skin. But most of all I cursed profusely at my lack of foresight. I had reached the avocados, but how was I to get them and myself back up the slope. But fear and desperation have always been great motivators. After all my parents dared the high seas, admittedly on a cruise liner, to come to this country and start a new life. One small slope and some rough grass weren’t going to hold me back. And so I balanced two avocados under each armpit and finally clutched and clawed my way back to the footpath.
Once safely home with my bounty I cut them open and admired the ripe golden green flesh. There was enough avocado here to make a lovely pasta with mushroom and parmesan and a side of delicious guacamole. Perhaps I could invite friends over to share in this foraged feast. Just as I was picking up the phone, I noticed the bruises. Not on me, although there were plenty of those. On the avocados. Small semi circles of brown rot marring the golden green flesh. Was that from where they had fallen out of the tree? Or where they had been squashed under an armpit?
Like a surgeon battling against time to save a life I deftly cut away at the rot. But it had spread and I had to cut deep. By the time I put down the knife there was barely enough avocado for a sandwich. At $2.99 per avocado, that was $12 worth of sandwich. And if I included labour, this might just be the most expensive sandwich I’d ever eaten. So I ate it slowly. And it was good.